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How to overcome cold-storage labelling challenges

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By ID Label

Online grocery shopping feeds the demand for cold storage.

As more consumers turn to food delivery services like Amazon Fresh and Peapod by Giant for their groceries, demand for cold storage warehouses in the United States is on the rise. Almost 2% of groceries are bought online today, but that is expected to explode to 13% over the next 5 years.

The United States will need 100 million square feet of new cold storage and freezer warehouse space to keep pace with the additional USD100-billion in annual grocery sales that will be conducted online by 2022. Private equity firms are betting on this boom, as two dozen companies have invested in the space. In fact, two firms alone have acquired 60% of the sector in the United States and Canada.

Labelling cold storage facilities has unique challenges

The number of cold storage facilities is expanding in gateway markets such as Los Angeles and New York and in leading food-production states like California, Washington, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin. The shift to e-commerce grocery shopping will add to this growth and spur changes in inventory management and distribution patterns.

These facilities require reliable barcode labels to support their cold storage environments. But these facilities face labelling challenges not typically found in a traditional warehouse.

“Using poorly constructed labels – perhaps in hopes of minimising costs – can end up being the most expensive option if your freezer storage labels quickly curl, crack or encounter frost build up,” says Gregg Schiltz, ID Label’s chief operating officer.

For professionals starting in the cold storage space, first answer these three questions to help overcome label challenges in a cold storage facility.

The shift to e-commerce grocery shopping will require bigger storage facilities. Image credit: Pexels
The shift to e-commerce grocery shopping will require bigger storage facilities. Image credit: Pexels

1. How will the labels perform in freezers?

In today’s cold- and freezer-storage environments, moisture and frost build-up can affect label performance and lead to failed scans. “Frost can build up between magnet rack labels and beams, increasing the chances of the label falling or cracking when knocked to the ground,” Schiltz says.

Facilities in humid environments without any air conditioning outside of the freezer area are particularly vulnerable to failed label performance due to moisture and frost build-up. To address this cold storage challenge, it is important to understand the operating temperatures and facility environment to ensure the right labels are selected to keep operations running smoothly.

2. At what temperature will labels be applied?

The temperature of the surface at the time of application can have an impact on which labels should be used.

“If the facility is new and the freezer area temperature has not yet been drawn down to its service temperature, there are multiple labelling and adhesive options available,” Schiltz says. “But if you’re labelling or relabelling a facility that is currently operating in sub-zero temperatures, you will want to make sure the label’s adhesive is suitable for application in that environment.”

It is also important to consider the surface on which the labels will be applied. Many adhesives will bond well with painted metal, powder coatings, plastics and other surfaces. For upright warehouse racks with “teardrop” holes, magnetic labels are often the best choice. When labels are applied, surfaces should be clean and dry, free of moisture and frost for the strongest bond possible.

3. Magnet or adhesive-backed labels – which is better for my operation?

Choosing whether you should use a magnet or adhesive-backed label is another challenging factor that is based on a variety of different cold storage warehouse conditions.

Labels constructed with pressure-sensitive film and freezer-grade adhesives – with a protective laminate coating – deliver strong performance in cold conditions. “They are resistant to moisture, chemicals and abrasions,” Schiltz says. “And they can perform in temperatures as low as -650C degrees.

Magnetic rack labels are durable, scan reliably and are easy to install and move – especially in live facilities where the temperature has been reduced. While magnet warehouse labels are typically more costly than adhesive rack labels, they offer a higher return on investment.

It is important to deduce how labels with perform once they are in below zero storage facilities for prolonged processes.It is important to deduce how labels with perform once they are in below zero storage facilities for prolonged processes. Image credit: Pexels
It is important to deduce how labels with perform once they are in below zero storage facilities for prolonged processes.It is important to deduce how labels with perform once they are in below zero storage facilities for prolonged processes. Image credit: Pexels

What is right for your environment?

Choosing the right labels for your cold storage warehouse environment can seem like a daunting task. ID Label has extensive experience working with many of the leading cold storage warehouse operators. We’ll walk you through your options and custom manufacture the best solution.

Reasons warehouse rack labels can lose adhesion

Properly and safely installing rack labels on warehouse beams is a task best left to professionals. “It typically requires specialised equipment, detailed planning and careful preparation to avoid any issues or errors,” says Brian Blair, ID Label’s manager of installation services.

Nonetheless, there may be times – such as relabelling a section of racking – when managers opt to perform the installation in-house with your own warehouse personnel. To help you avoid any installation issues, we put together this short primer on the key factors that can lead to rack labels that curl, peel or fall following a do-it-yourself installation project.

Avoid these issues on your next label installation project:

  • Dusty, dirty or grimy beams: “Dirt and dust can quickly accumulate during rack storage and installation, which can significantly diminish a label’s adhesive values,” Blair says. If the back of a peeling label is dotted with dirt, it likely means the beam wasn’t wiped clean prior to applying the labels. “It’s best to wipe down the surface with a clean, damp rag and some isopropyl alcohol. This cleans the surface and removes any moisture to ensure optimal adhesion.”
  • Beams were treated with improper chemicals or solutions: Cleaning solutions must be free of oils or citric acids. “Harsh chemicals and detergents do not interact well with some label adhesives,” Blair said. He cited an instance in which workers treated beams with an oily polish prior to labelling and assumed the label’s adhesive had failed.
  • Paint outgassing: Newly painted beams can emit fumes (outgassing) for several weeks, which can diminish the adhesive values of some label constructions.
  • Moisture: Humid conditions create condensation on warehouse beams. Labels applied in this environment can easily curl, crinkle, peel or fall off the beams. As noted above, wiping beams with isopropyl alcohol helps to wick away moisture and prepare the surface for labelling.
  • Application over layers of old labels: “Scraping off old labels is time-consuming,” Blair says. “But simply applying new labels over multiple old ones is a recipe for inaccurate scans and labels that curl and peel.” ID Label’s Beam Renew™ is an excellent solution for easy beam relabelling.
  • Wrong label construction for operating environment: “If you’ve got a freezer environment, for instance, it’s critical to use an adhesive specified for those temperatures,” Blair says. “Even if you’re using the right freezer label, it might require installation in an ambient setting before the temperature draw down.”
  • Rough beam surfaces: If the beam surface isn’t smooth, labels may not stick. “I have seen instances where weld splatter on the beams was an issue,” Blair says. “And other times where poorly painted refurbished beams were left with rough surfaces that over time allowed air to get behind the label.”
  • Structural steel beams: Structural pallet racks are made from heavier steel and can have a slightly less smooth finished surface than roll-form steel. “Labels applied to structural steel should have an aggressive adhesive for best performance,” Blair says.
  • Beams or labels not acclimated to environment: Be sure to give new racking time to get acclimated to the operating environment before labelling, especially in winter months. “In one instance, the racking was delivered in frigid conditions and installed as it was brought off the trucks,” Blair says. “Workers immediately began placing labels as sections were completed, but the steel was so cold it didn’t allow for proper adhesion.” Likewise, for maximum bond strength, make sure your labels have fully acclimated to room temperature before installing. And don’t store them near dock doors that frequently open and close!
  • Labels are the wrong size: Make sure the labels are the right height and width for your beams. “If your beam is four inches high, don’t order four-inch high labels,” Blair says. “You’ll need to accommodate for any welds, wire deck overhang, and the like.”
  • Poorly applied labels: Although rudimentary, it’s worth noting that proper pressure must be exerted to allow for the best surface adhesion. “Warehouse racking comes in a variety of shapes and sizes,” Blair says. “The best application method is to use your full hand, including adequate palm pressure, to apply a label smoothly and eliminate any air bubbles.”